The Friday before Christmas vacation is always a busy one for the band. The schools and faculty have pretty much punted, the kids are rammy and principals are looking for something to give the kids to send them out for the winter break. That’s fine with us and we can be assured that we can wind them up. Unfortunately, it involves dealing with Friday holiday traffic.

We had two morning sessions at a middle school in central Jersey in Cedar Grove with 5th and 7th grades and then 6th and 8th grades. I had a chat two weeks ago with the principal at this school. He was worried that we wouldn’t be able to connect with the older kids (apparently, they had had a few groups that had played down to the kids and the assemblies were not well received), and there’s nothing worse that a group of disappointed 7th graders… I assured him that we play aggressively and would treat the kids like adults. Things would be fine. 

We were in the gym and on stage ready for the 9 am show after a 6:30 am Bethlehem departure and surprisingly easy commute to the school. (It’s always an hour and a half – RR rule of thumb) The music teacher helped us settle in for the show and it was neat to connect with musician off the bat. He is a classical guitarist himself with a guitar ensemble at the school (he liked my fingerpicking stuff). Both shows went well and it was cool to see the principal in the back having a great time, laughing at the jokes and being generally relieved that we were the real deal. The kids dug it, the PTA moms were glad, and the music teacher said it was the best assembly they have had. Mission accomplished. 600 kids and 30 teachers entertained. Off to round two…..

Now for the drive back west to Clinton for our 1:20 single assembly. At least, it was on the way back to PA. Wayne and Nick got lost, but Kevin and I are pros at gettin’ there. Again, we were welcomed back (we do this school on this date every two years) by folks familiar with the show, and that is no small thing. I even got Christmas cookies from the office secretaries, a cart to haul my equipment in, and beautiful auditorium stage to set up on. We actually play some pretty sophisticated arenas, believe it or not. (Your school taxes at work.) Big stage, real lights, great seating…. It’s not always a multi-purpose/cafeteria room.

The lads got there in time, in spite of travel and lunch, and we gathered ourselves for the show, no small thing since we had just done two shows in the morning and put in miles of Jersey traffic to perform for these 300 middle schoolers.

I was feeling some recent hip fatigue, so I pulled up a stage stool and decided to try out this wrinkle in the show – play from the stool, mix the sound, run the show – all pretty strenuous, come to think of it, and make it work.

There were several wonderful moments during the show. When we play the jigs early on, I always ask if there are any kids who are Irish dancers. One 8th grade girl came up to dance and she was dressed in a one-piece reindeer suit (w/cute tail) and proceeded to prance across the full stage with leaps, kicks, turns and shear talent. Damn. The place went nuts, as did the band. 

We brought out Mr. Schaffer (Steve, to us). He is the music teacher at the school, a professional rock guitarist in the real world, and has sat in with us before. We have a nice slot in the show for this, a Muddy Waters’ tune I Got My Mojo Working that lends itself to someone sitting in. Steve, being a pro, stepped up, wailed on two leads, nailed the ending and left the stage to the cheers of a full house of students and fellow faculty members. What a great, great thing to happen in this community.

It was a tough gig though. I had to navigate the stool in the afternoon performance, dealing  with 900 middle school kids and three shows, the physical travel fatigue and pulling off the show with my good fellow musicians. I’m glad I work with pros. Really.

It was an extraordinary day on this small sliver of “The Road”. I love what I do.